Why Humans Persist in Believing in Universal Morality: The Function of Ideology (Part 2)

Click here to read Part 1. From the genuinely secular viewpoint, there is nothing at all supernatural about morality. It is simply the system of values and principles that defines for each society what behaviour by the individual is right or wrong, in the interests...

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Click here to read Part 1.

From the genuinely secular viewpoint, there is nothing at all supernatural about morality.

It is simply the system of values and principles that defines for each society what behaviour by the individual is right or wrong, in the interests of that particular society as a whole. It is solely a product of the human mind; a social force or authority constituted by the unanimous, or near unanimous, collective current opinions of the members of each community. Any moral belief is subject to change with time, adapting to changing circumstances, as noted in Part 1.

Ideologies are religious or secular belief systems that are created to exploit morality and the powerful role it plays in human psychology, for the purpose of achieving the personal objectives of the charismatic and dynamic individuals who create and control the ideologies. This is effected by attracting as many adherents as possible to the ideology and, through the doctrine propounded by it, duly modifying their behaviour in order to bring about a state of affairs in society favourable to the ideologue’s personal objectives.

Thus, at the instigation of St. Paul and the early Church fathers, Christianity duly captured the Roman Empire, Russia was taken from the Romanovs by the adherents of Marx and Lenin’s communism, and Hitler’s national socialism overran Germany.

Ideologies are the principal and most cost-effective means whereby the mass of humanity is, and always has been, manipulated and controlled by its leaders. Physical force, the principal alternative method used historically, is inferior by every measure. To control hundreds of thousands, or millions of people, their complicity is required. Ideologies gain this complicity by the means described below.

Ideologies all utilise morality to attain their objectives, because it is most readily through the moral and mystical concept of a morality that is both transcendental and universal that secular as well as religious ideologies are able to offer supposed solutions to humankind’s inherent and most profound psychological need. This, as we noted previously, is to believe that there must be greater significance and meaning to human existence than appears empirically to most of us to be the case. It is through people’s belief that an ideology, in one way or the other, represents and speaks for a superior, transcendental consciousness that it is best able to attract the adherents that it requires in order to achieve its creator’s objectives.

There is not one of us alive today whose mind is not captive to moral concepts conceived in their own interests by long-dead ideologues.

Although religious ideologies pronounce upon spiritual matters and secular ideologies upon material ones, and so seemingly address two very different worlds, they are in fact both exploiting the same human psychological frailty in order to attract adherents and through them attain their respective self-serving objectives. They are also both using the same psychological method to do so; namely, assuring would-be believers that human life is indeed more significant and meaningful than appears superficially to be the case, and that they uniquely can provide the keys to the redemption (for the religious) or the Utopia (for the secular) that will be the reward for belief and acceptance of the particular ideology’s doctrine.

To establish their bona fides, all ideologies, secular or religious, resort to making the same two following claims which supposedly qualify them to do this.

Firstly, they each claim to have access to, and represent faithfully, what they claim is the transcendent universal morality.

Because morality is transcendental (going ‘beyond humanity’, presumably to some form of superior intelligence or existence) this asserts, either explicitly in the case of religious ideologies, or implicitly in the case of supposedly secular ones, the existence of some form of life or intelligence superior to humanity, thus putatively providing the solution to humanity’s deepest psychological need. The fact of representing the supposedly transcendent morality also provides them with the most powerful moral authority possible. As representatives of that moral authority, they are in a position to dictate to all their adherents exactly which actions are morally desirable and which are forbidden. This ability, given the enormous power over others that it confers, is the whole purpose of ideologies creating and maintaining the myth of a universal, transcendent morality. It allows ideologues to present what are no more than their personal and fallible moral opinions to their adherents as universal moral facts, which must be obeyed.

The Western religious ideologies have supposedly been granted knowledge of the universal moral authority by means of direct revelation from God. Secular, or supposedly secular ideologies, on the other hand, reject the blatantly-supernatural concept of a deity, implicitly assume that the moral code to which they each subscribe is not simply a changeable product of the human mind, but is both universal and transcendental. The supposedly secular belief that morality is transcendental, is, as noted previously, scarcely less supernatural than the concept of a revealed divinity, postulating as it does the implicit existence of some sort of intelligence, or being, or existence, superior to humankind, from which the morality must emanate.

Secondly, they each claim to be pursuing the highest moral good by having identified a great moral wrong in the world, and to be dedicated to correcting it.

For Christianity, for example, the moral wrong is humanity’s supposed original sin. For socialism, it is the lack in society of something that it calls ‘social justice’. It is during the course of the long struggle to correct the supposed moral wrong in pursuance of the ideology’s doctrine that the believer’s behaviour is manipulated to serve the interests of those who control the ideology.

As further evidence that religious and secular ideologies are essentially the same thing, with the latter simply catering to the slightly less credulous would-be believers, they each utilise the same technique in regard to addressing the supposed moral error that each claims to have identified in the world. Specifically, they both denigrate the present in favour of an idealistic future, by damning and criticising the present state of affairs in their respective fields, spiritual or political, in favour of a promised and sublime future, to be enjoyed either in heaven or on Earth, depending, and provided only that all doctrine is obeyed.

It is not the respective belief or non-belief in a deity that distinguishes the religious from the truly secular. It is rather the respective belief or non-belief in any form of the supernatural, implicit no less than explicit.

All ideologies are fantasies, founded upon belief in the existence of something or other that supposedly transcends the finite limitations of our human nature and our physical existence.

Why do humans feel the need so strongly for life to have more meaning and significance than it empirically appears to do? Perhaps this is a reflection of our survival instinct. We are driven biologically to stay alive and avoid death at all costs. Death flatly contradicts this imperative. Is our religious instinct simply an emotional attempt to reconcile our inherent imperative to live with the intellectual certainty of our deaths?

Get your copy of David Matthews’ book on ideology and morality, Our Captured Minds on Amazon.

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  1. Jacques Reply

    The one objective moral base, which is the closest we can get to a universal human truth, is our bodies. I hereby assume our consciousness to be materially grounded, and that our nervous systems work alike. I further accept our psychology is adapted to the physical reality we inhabit, and to our experience of others.

    With shared needs and desires, experience (personal and cultural) teaches us what is expected and what gets punished or rewarded. So our personal experience has an objective grounding in the facts of reality. These facts are universal enough to form some sort of consensus on what a morality, or code of conduct, would entail. Reason should judge the specifics if we are to transcend politics and prejudice. It is an aim, or ideal, but based on the facts of human existence.

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